Pipe or machinegun for ANC presidency?
By Moshoeshoe Monare
Apparently someone stumbled across a piece of paper containing Jacob Zuma's future cabinet. It had Schabir Shaik's named earmarked for finance minister in what is feared could become a rampant phuma singene (get-out-and-we-get-in) scenario.
Surely this sounds preposterous. It represents a most awful state of paranoia gripping the country and the ruling party. No matter how laughable it may sound, the thought of who will be dining with whom at Mahlambandlopfu's huge guest room has already sent jitters across the country.
It is the reason why business and government moved this week to try to allay international fears about the the post-Thabo Mbeki future.
Ironically, the same fears were raised when the smoke from Mbeki's favourite pipe could be smelled in the highest office in the land after Nelson Mandela, the Great Reconciler, announced his retirement.
The fear of seeing Zuma and his crowd marching to the Union Buildings wielding machine guns is unnerving, mostly to the middle class and business, according to recent surveys.
Last weekend, the African National Congress's (ANC) national executive committee debated how to rise above whether the next president wears funny shirts, smokes a pipe or loves his machinegun.
The National Executive Council (NEC) now wants to convince the rank and file that there is a metal detector at the entrance of the Office of the President in Pretoria to nab anyone entering with a machinegun, and assure them that the Union Buildings are a smoke-free area.
At the same time, what gives the ANC a headache is the mass hysteria created by perceptions that the machinegun is a "mass weapon", while the pipe is for the intelligentsia only.
A level of hysteria emerged at last year's ANC national general council in which delegates, still emotional about Zuma's dismissal, rejected most of the proposals - including the rational ones - because they were associated with Mbeki.
This week ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe admitted that the NEC would visit branches to explain "the leadership challenges facing the organisation" in a campaign called Imvuselelo/Puseletso - revival of the organisation.
This will be followed by strategic discussion documents circulated among members, pleading for deeper thinking before choosing the organisation's next leader next year.
After reading the documents and listening to the leadership, members are then expected to discuss this issue at the policy conference, which is going to be a test between populism and rationality.
The left, in the form of Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP), are also eyeing the same conference to convince delegates that Mbeki does not act in their best interests.
The struggle, therefore, is to win the hearts and minds of delegates and implore them to rise above personalities and act in the interests of the organisation.
On the one hand, Cosatu and the SACP are trying hard to show that Mbeki's personality and leadership strategies have done more harm than good, while the ANC's leaders - who are now occupying the middle ground - are petitioning everyone to shelve emotions.
Acknowledging internal democracy, Motlanthe reminded ordinary branch members of a document entitled Through the Eye of the Needle, which sets out the broad criteria of what an ANC leader should be.
The document reads in part: "A leader should constantly seek to improve his capacity to serve the people, he should strive to be in touch with the people all the time, listen to their views and learn from them.
"He should be accessible and flexible and not arrogate to himself the status of being the source of all wisdom."
The respective general secretaries of the SACP and Cosatu, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi, are likely to invoke this clause and shout: "Mbeki! Mbeki! Mbeki!"
But their shouts will be silenced by the following paragraphs in the same document which read: "A leader should lead by example. He should be above reproach in his political and social conduct - as defined by our revolutionary morality. Through force of example, he should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike.
"Leading a life that reflects commitment to the strategic goals of the (national democratic revolution) includes not only being free of corrupt practices, it also means actively fighting against corruption."
Surely, Zuma's trial on a rape charge - its impact on the image of the organisation formed a greater part of the NEC discussions - and imminent corruption trial wouldn't satisfy the requirements spelt out in the document.
Another document, Contextualised Discussions in Addressing Challenges of Leadership, is also an attempt to get members to focus on the imperatives and purpose of the organisation and not on individuals occupying leadership positions.
The document was written by a number of NEC members. They fall on either side of the succession divide.
On the side of Mbeki supporters are government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe and Mpumalanga Premier Thabang Makwetla, while the anti-Mbeki contingent includes SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin and former Eastern Cape MEC Enoch Godongwana.
Though it was not adopted by the NEC, some of its arguments are likely to form part of the strategic discussion papers to be developed before the policy conference.
Leaving aside the issue of convincing the rank and file, it remains to be seen whether Zuma and his supporters will rise beyond passion for power and whether the Mbeki camp can accept that it should be up to the people to shape the ANC.
An NEC member said Zuma supporters in the party had already softened their tone to "look at the broader picture" while the diversity of the authors of the Challenges document, showed a willingness to negotiate on the part of those associated with Mbeki.
But Zuma has already aligned himself with the left and the Shaiks, a camp that believes everything about Mbeki is wrong, and it could be difficult for him to get out of this.
Reassuringly, one of his protégés told this correspondent five years ago that Zuma was more interested in building the party than in presidential power.
But the recent ferocity of the succession battle might have changed his mind.
If the ANC leadership manages to rise beyond personalities, provided they also get a buy-in from branches on this, then there won't be a basis to be worried about who becomes the next president of the land.
Yet the issues raised by the SACP about a dominant presidency point to a consequence of personality - as opposed to collectivism - that has characterised the ANC leadership for years.
This was rebutted by Netshitenzhe in an address to Cosatu last year. He reminded workers that the state should mediate between the working class and business interests as "a manager of contradictions".
"It is therefore unavoidable that the ANC and the state it has spawned have to manage the class contradictions thrown up by the realities of the capitalist system," Netshitenzhe said.
Nzimande's criticism of the Mbeki presidency does not offer an alternative to it, but he would prefer a president who takes his calls and shows an "unflinching bias towards the workers".
As a last resort, the SACP - with a membership estimated at 40 000 - might consider going it alone at the polls.
But they would fear taking such a risk unless they have the backing of Cosatu.
Although Cosatu members are emotional about how Zuma was treated and also share the view of a power-thirsty Mbeki, they tend to see themselves as ANC members first.
If the Mbeki factor is removed from the picture, it could prove difficult for Vavi to convince members, during the federation's conference in September, that the only solution lies outside the ANC.
Until there is a frank realisation that neither Zuma nor Mbeki, as individuals, are saviours of the ANC, the ruling party could emerge from the 2007 conference racked by more divisions and unrecognisable to ordinary members, or led by populist gluttons with their eyes and stomachs focused on power.
History of presidential tussle in ANC
How the ANC leadership is elected
Source: ANC constitution and NEC statement